As the assembled Camden Chat members gathered in Pickles Pub for the first pitch of the season, there was not a scenario of which I could conceive that would end up where things are right now: the Orioles leaving Tampa with a 3-0 record and sole possession of first place in the American League East. Does this series mean the Rays are just really bad or that the Orioles are just really good? Most likely it means neither, because it's just a small sample size, but there's nothing fun as a fan about saying "small sample size" when things are going great. We're on a 162-0 pace and that's all that matters.
Making his major league debut, Zach Britton did nothing to advance any notion that he's not ready for the big leagues with his performance today. Britton pitched six innings, struck out six and walked three. Going into the game, he said he wasn't afraid of contact, and the defenders behind him gave him reason not to fear contact: every hard-hit ball seemed to go right at an Orioles player, which was not a bad outcome considering how often the ball left the ground and Britton is supposed to be a ground-ball pitcher. On the subject of fielding, the only really bad play while Britton was in the game was Britton himself, double-clutching after fielding a bunt.
He left with the game tied at 1-1, but Orioles batters broke open the flood gates against Rays starter Wade Davis in the top of the seventh inning, with four base-hits in five batters that started with a Matt Wieters single and was capped by a two-run double by J.J. Hardy. By the time Joe Maddon dipped into the bullpen, the Rays were down 4-1, and that was all the support that the Orioles bullpen would need this afternoon.
A thinner-looking Jason Berken pitched the 7th and struck out the side, with a scoreless 8th inning by Jim Johnson halving his ERA from the 9.00 he sported on Opening Day. Another Orioles run in the top of the 9th on a Mark Reynolds double put the game out of the range of any closer-like entities (and thank goodness for that), which meant we got to see Josh Rupe. Listening on the radio, his name is in fact pronounced in a way that rhymes with "poop", but that was not how he performed today, sending down the side on eight pitches with no drama whatsoever.
Today was a good day for the hitters, with every Oriole except Vladimir Guerrero reaching base, and with two-hit days from Nick Markakis, Wieters, Adam Jones (his first hits of the season) and Reynolds (a pair of run-scoring doubles). 5-12 hitting with runners in scoring position meant that the team wasn't wasting the scoring opportunities it received, either. Again, small sample size, but it's sure a far cry from what we saw for a lot of last year.
Wieters, by the way, completely destroyed BJ Upton again today: see photo with this post as evidence. BJ, seriously, dude, you gotta learn that you don't run on Matt Wieters. You don't run into Matt Wieters. Next time just meekly strike out and save yourself the embarrassment.
The earned run that Britton gave up in the bottom of the third inning was the first surrendered by an Orioles starter on the season, which is an impressive span of 20 innings across three starts.
Have to hand out some demerits to third base coach John Russell, who sent Hardy to his doom to end the 7th inning. The play at the plate was not even close. The ghost of the Windmill is not fully exorcised from the third base coach box, it seems.
But let's not let that, or indeed, anything else, take away from the excitement today. The Esskay out-of-town scoreboard shows that every other team in the AL East lost today. The Orioles swept the Rays for the first time since 2005, opened the season with a 3-0 start for the first time since 1997, Zach Britton notched the first of what will hopefully be many fine starts in an O's uniform, and oh yeah, did I mention sole possession of first place?